Beyond cool-hunting – why brands need deeper cultural understanding to really connect

Ahead of his appearance at Culture Camp on 13th June, we caught up with cultural anthropologist and author Grant McCracken to get his view on why the course is a vital tool for creatives, marketers and brand owners in stepping beyond the superficial view of what’s next or what’s cool often provided by ‘cool-hunters’.

Many brands have fallen into the trap of the cool-hunter in their attempts to identify emerging cultural trends and developments that give them an ‘in’ with a difficult-to-reach market. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay abreast of these developments and aware of what’s going on, in fact it’s vital, but really being able to capitalise effectively requires a deeper cultural understanding.

As McCracken says: “Typically the cool hunter passes through a hip neighbourhood in the back of a limo and observes somebody doing something new.

“The cool hunter is not interested in anything that doesn’t make him or her look cool, and that means they’re just cutting themselves off from most of culture.

“By the time the [new] thing finds its way into a decision-making process and out into the world as a product or as a promotion or as a communication, it’s now really badly connected to whatever was happening on that street corner as the limo raced through it.”

Increased media literacy through social media and the upturn of quality in TV has given rise to a much more engaged and sophisticated consumer, more accustomed to filtering the overt advertising and clumsy messaging of the old model: “The old notion used to be ‘Well what’s the hot button here?’ As if the consumer truly was an automaton and you just needed to find the ‘on’ switch to activate their wish to buy, and they’d march to the market and buy. 

“So the corporation knows that’s not what we’re looking for, and then we went through this sort of painful moment of cool-hunting, where the notion was ‘Oh the kids are doing something that we as adults couldn’t possibly understand’, and we turned to the agency or the planner or the strategist and we say, you know, ‘What’s cool?’  You know, it’s so painful, just sort of insulting.”

But things are changing: “I think the corporation is listening more carefully, it’s casting its attention more broadly, and it’s better and more intelligent at working that intelligence through to the moment of decision and to the moment of creativity.  So I think we’re well removed from the hot button, cool-hunter days, but clearly we still have a lot to go.

“And here’s the thing that I think is really sort of scary for the corporation, if TV got better, if TV has helped to create and then sustain a more sophisticated viewer, it means that anybody, all of those people who are now more sophisticated, are more sophisticated when they’re looking at marketing or at some innovation in the market place, and that means you’re really taking a chance when you proceed with old-model marketing.”

Find out more about Culture Camp course and register.

And get more of Grant's unique take on culture on his blog.